Roll over Beethoven: Classical Music and Mental Health According to Stephen Fry
This week’s community blog comes from Anthony Peacock, expert in all things PR and content. This week, Anthony writes about mental health and depression. He’ll be exploring what mental health advocate and general knowledge virtuoso Stephen Fry has to say about living with the depression and finding solace in the extraordinary works of Beethoven.
Roll Over Beethoven
When it comes to mental health generally and depression specifically, there’s no universal cure or answer. It’s more a question of finding what works best for you – and that could literally be anything.
Actor and comedian Stephen Fry has said, for example, that he listens to music by Beethoven as a means of coping with depression and that it has helped him when he was feeling at his lowest.
Appearing on the Art of Change podcast, the 62-year-old, who has often been open about his struggles with mental health, recently spoke about how the German composer – perhaps best known for the Ode to Joy – has helped him through troubled moments.
“There’s a healing quality to listening to it that helps,” he said. “Especially when combined with not drinking too much and walking and eating properly and all the other things that supposedly help one’s mental health. One of the ways I cope with it is to bathe myself in music like Beethoven’s and to think of people who have gone before me who have been lit by the flame of mania and doused by the icy water of depression and lived those lives of flaring up and going down and being close to the edge and how they have managed to do things and to achieve things and to retain their love and hope, and one clings to that.”
Great words from Mr Fry. And he’s not the only one. If I’m particularly stressed I’ll often reach for Italian opera or for Mozart: whose exquisitely structured and beautiful music often forms the perfect counterpoint to the chaos, turmoil and negativity that can so easily invade your mind in situations of stress. Before you even know it, these feelings can spiral out of hand towards a very dark place.
Fry – a man renowned for his easy humour and lightness of touch – has made no secret of the fact that he has sometimes found himself feeling suicidal. In 1995 he disappeared for a few days after starting a run of a West End play, Cell Mates – because he just couldn’t take it anymore. His disappearance sparked nationwide panic, but he later explained that he probably would have killed himself had he not just walked away at that moment.
Then in 2012, he attempted suicide while filming abroad using pills and vodka, before being rescued by his producer. Significantly, he had been filming a documentary about anti-gay protesters at the time: a harrowing topic that may just have been enough to tip him over the edge on that particular day.
“Inside you just don’t see the point of anything,” he added, speaking of those moments. “Nothing has flavour or savour. Nothing has any meaning. Everything is just hopeless. There’s no future. There’s no sense of anything ahead of you. You have to hope something will stop you. In my case it was just failed attempts and waking up in a hospital.”
Adding to his depression, Fry said that he struggled with “guilt” and “shame” as he recovered from the attempt: two emotions that are common among suicide survivors. But crucially, Fry added that being able to see “colour again’ was a crucial first step in his recovery. And that’s where Beethoven came in.
“Beethoven is a perfect example of someone who brings that colour back to you quicker than almost anything else and that’s a sign you’re back,” he said.
Fry, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is now president of the mental health charity MIND, which has done excellent work in raising awareness of this crucial issue.
“The whole point in my role, as I see it, is not to be shy and forthcoming about the morbidity and genuine nature of the likelihood of death amongst people with certain mood disorders,” he said, adding that there’s never one specific reason that people try to take their own lives.
“There is no ‘why’ – it’s not the right question,” he pointed out. “There’s no reason. If there were a reason for it, you could reason someone out of it, and you could tell them why they shouldn’t take their own life.”
But in Stephen Fry’s view, what’s perhaps even more damaging than a mental health issue is the stigma that surrounds it in the outlook of so many other people. He reckons that one in four people suffer from mental health issues – so why is it still not widely understood?
For more of Anthony’s work, why not check out some of the articles below:
Or, why not meet some other members of our ULU community: the ULU Nation
Reframing Lockdown: Time To Make a Change?
This week’s community post comes from Anthony Peacock, who takes care of all things PR here at ULU. Anthony has written an insightful piece about his thoughts on the current lockdown situation we all find ourselves in. If you’re in desperate need of a perception shift right now, look no further than Anthony’s thought-provoking article, Time to Make a Change?
Time to make a change?
What have you been up to during ‘lockdown’? People I know have reacted to it in very different ways. Some have been pacing their flats and houses like caged tigers. Others are being driven mad by the prospect of becoming part-time teachers on top of their normal jobs. And yet more are simply worried and sleepless, concerned at how long their jobs and businesses will go on for. And there are a few for whom it’s largely business as usual, going about their busy everyday lives as if not much had happened.
All of these reactions are understandable. There’s no template for how you should behave in these unprecedented circumstances. But it’s fair to say that there are more negative thoughts than positive ones, and under a regime that has been often compared to wartime, you can see why people think that way.
But more than ever, it’s important to try and see the plus side too. For all the Churchillian talk, this isn’t actually war. Nobody has to go and fight, and while the fatalities associated with Covid-19 are frightening, the numbers can’t be compared to the casualties of war.
Instead, people are only being asked to stay at home. One of the biggest regrets I often hear from people with hectic lives is that they don’t have enough time to spend with their families. These are perhaps not the ideal circumstances you’d want to be presented with that time under, but nonetheless that time is now. Furthermore, we’re all freer from distractions than usual, with the possibilities for going out being limited.
In many ways, the ‘wartime’ talk is only there because it’s a return to 1930s lifestyles for a few months. Families have to stick together and spend time in each other’s company that they wouldn’t normally. In years to come, you might just look back at this time as having been precious. Because perception of reality counts as much as the reality itself.
The chance to do stuff you wouldn’t normally do doesn’t only apply to families. Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time reading, as well as catching up on all the little tasks I’ve been meaning to do. It’s curiously liberating. Several other self-employed people say that their accounts and archives have never been more up to date and in order. And DIY supplies have also had a spike in sales, as people get round to doing jobs that have been hanging around their necks for ages.
There are films I’ve finally been able to watch as well, not to mention programmes that have been clogging up my iPlayer. And yes, it’s been great to get a bit more sleep than normal – and not feel guilty about it.
But most of all, there’s been a palpable reset to everyday working life. It gives you the time and mental space to question everything you’ve been doing up to now, to really think about whether or not you want to keep on doing things in exactly the same way in future. To make proper strategic plans, in detail, which you never had the mental bandwidth to do before. It’s so easy to get stuck into a rut and keep doing things in the same way, simply because you’ve never seen an alternative.
Coronavirus has shown everyone that they can have a different life from what they’ve been used to. Overall, it’s not a better life – but probably everyone can agree that there are certain aspects to it that are potentially better.
Most people now have a bit more time on their hands, and space to discover what it is that they really enjoy doing. Many years ago, I started writing short stories, some of which were published. I loved it but ran out of time to finish many others. Now I’ve started writing again for pleasure, having actually forgotten how much I liked it.
There’s also a greater awareness generally than before of people more vulnerable than us; a more globally social outlook now that so many people have been socially distanced. And through that, perhaps a greater realisation of what’s really important to us in life.
Most of us have dreamed at some point of a ‘career break’ but have never been able to justify it before. Now it’s happened, like it or not. And that might just lead to a new chapter, which would never otherwise have been opened.
Of course, that’s a forcibly optimistic view. But the greatest weapon we have in this common crisis is positivity, so let’s not apologise for that. It’s important to look beyond the worry of the next few months and see the opportunities out there afterwards.
Because there will be an afterwards, and chances are that the world won’t quite be the same place at the other end of this. People will of course be more aware of all the forces beyond our control, but just as aware that there are other things you can definitely influence – such as the way you work and what you do.
One final thing to think about. Moments like this occur only once in a lifetime (thankfully). When you look back at it in years to come, will you regret not making some lasting changes while you had the chance?
Vicky Smith – Laughing My Way Through Anxiety
Hi, I’m Vicky! I take care of content and SEO here at ULU. And this week I’ve been asked to write about my own mental health and experience with anxiety for the ULU community: ULU Nation. I don’t tend to open up much about suffering from anxiety. So, writing about it is a bit scary. But I think talking about mental health de-stigmatises it. And the more that people read about mental health issues, the more they’ll understand them.
So, if you literally have no idea what anxiety is like, or if you have experienced feeling anxious and want to see what it’s like for somebody else, then look no further! Here are my answers to some questions I’ve been asked by my team:
How long have you had anxiety?
I guess you could say I’ve always been highly-strung. Even from an early age I was a worrier and an over-thinker.
I had my first nosebleed from stress at age 8 – what can possibly even be that stressful when you’re 8? (I think that one was about a dodgy Pokémon card trade I made and then regretted in the playground.) So really, I’ve just always taken things too seriously.
But I don’t think I started using the term ‘anxiety’ until I was officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder during my second year of university – about 7 years ago.
What does anxiety feel like?
Anxiety feels truly awful. I wouldn’t even wish it on my worst enemy!
I have lots of people ask me what anxiety feels like. And of course, everyone is likely to experience symptoms of anxiety slightly differently. But for me, I always explain it like this: think of a time in your life when you were really, truly nervous or afraid. Maybe it was how you felt when you were standing outside of your high school exam hall, waiting to take an exam you were entirely unprepared for. Perhaps it was the feeling you felt before you had to give an important speech or presentation. Or maybe it’s the feeling of being up really high when you’re afraid of heights.
That’s what my anxiety disorder feels – except in all of the examples I gave, there’s a reason why you might be feeling anxious or afraid. For me, there’s not necessarily any reason to feel anxious. Often, the feeling is just with me all the time, from the moment I wake up in the morning. Some days are better than others – occasionally I’ll go a few days without feeling it. But in general, anxiety is a regular part of my life.
What about anxiety attacks?
Ah, the dreaded anxiety attack!
Sometimes everything just gets a bit too much. If I don’t catch the warning signs or I don’t take some time to de-stress or relax, then I’ll have an anxiety attack. This usually involves not being able to breathe, having chest pains and lots of ugly crying – there’s a reason that anxiety episodes often cause people to end up in A&E thinking they’re having a heart attack!
And for me personally, I always have dissociative episodes when I get really anxious. (I feel like nobody ever talks about this! But it’s such a common symptom of anxiety.) I’ll start to forget where I am or not recognise my surroundings – even if I’m at home in my apartment! And sometimes I don’t remember large chunks of my day due to this. (It’s called ‘dissociative amnesia‘ in case you’re interested.)
How does anxiety affect your life?
You might think ‘oh, that’s not so bad, you can learn to deal with unpleasant feelings!’ – and yes, to an extent this is true.
But anxiety has a wider effect that people don’t always think about! I once had a therapist tell me that when your brain is anxious, it goes into a primal ‘fight or flight’ mode. This means that an anxious brain is always on alert, always looking out for something it can perceive as a threat. It’s like your brain thinks ‘I’m feeling afraid! There must be a reason I’m feeling this way! Better be on high alert!’
And when your brain is in this state, it can affect your concentration, focus, creative thinking, sleep – and so much more!
How do you deal with anxiety?
I have a few coping mechanisms I use to deal with anxiety.
In the last 4 months or so, I’ve taken up swimming regularly. Swimming is literally the only form of exercise that I can stand. You’ll never find me in the gym or (heaven forbid) going for a run. But I find that doing some kind of exercise helps train my brain to deal with feeling uncomfortable. I feel like swimming is making my brain more resilient – if I can push past feeling tired to finish my swim, then I can push past feeling anxious or upset.
I also use an app called ‘Quirk’ every day. It’s a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) app that helps me track my anxious thoughts and train my brain to look at them another way. It’s a literal lifesaver!
Is there a positive side to anxiety?
It’s not all doom and gloom – I promise! In recent years, I’ve learnt to look at things in a different way. I’m a believer in ‘reframing’ things – looking at negativity from another angle to see if there’s another more positive side.
And I think being anxious makes me a more caring person. – Hear me out!
Because I know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in my surroundings, or to feel socially anxious, I always try to make sure that nobody else has to feel that way. So, I always try my best to make other people feel as comfortable and at ease as possible. And I always check in on people if I know they’re having a hard time to offer a friendly ear and a cuppa! Really, I think this is quite a common trait for people who have anxiety disorders. I know a lot of anxiety sufferers who are the most caring and wonderful people I’ve ever met!
(That realisation cost me thousands of pounds in therapy. So, if you’re an anxious person, there you go – I’m giving you this one for free!)
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for reading my anxious ramblings! I hope I haven’t made myself sound too crazy.
But if you have someone in your life who suffers from anxiety, make sure to check in on them from time to time to see how they’re doing! You never know when someone might be in need of a friendly face!
For more content from the ULU community: ULU Nation, read Anthony Peacock’s insights on what we can learn about human behaviour from the airport.
For more content related to anxiety, read ‘Anxious Times’ – a blog from ULU founder, Paul Hembery.
Pablo’s Monday Blog – Anxious Times
We start the decade and already we hear and read about troubling times across all regions of the world. With the speed of communication today, and the integrated networks, it does make life seem that there are only negative happenings and events in continuation. Maybe the old adage that ignorance is bliss rings true. Because today we are not protected from any event in any far reached corner of the world, we are told about them in real time. Indeed, I rather find the news shows a negative place to start or finish a day. In isolation, we are helpless to effect or impact these events and that can lead to a feeling of helplessness and anxious times.
Left Behind: Illegal, Medicinal Cannabis Use
Which made the publication of the excellent report by Dr. Daniel Couch for the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis “Left Behind: The Scale of Illegal Cannabis Use for Medicinal Intent in the UK” most relevant and intriguing to read (you can find the link HERE). The report is based on a YouGov survey of 10,000 users and highlights that 3% of the UK population uses cannabis to treat a medical condition, with usage across all genres, social classes and age groups. Hence whilst cannabis use is illegal unless prescribed, nearly 1.4 Million users take risks to treat their medical conditions.
To sum up the YouGov results the following reasons and numbers are given for the use of medical cannabis: 653,456 people are estimated to use cannabis to deal with depression. A further 586,188 for anxiety, 326,728 for chronic pain, and nearly quarter of a million people treat their arthritis. Overall that is a lot of people dealing with a multitude of health issues.
Obviously this got me thinking, whilst ULU does not sell medicinal cannabis, we do know that a number of our customers and team do find benefits from using CBD to treat some of those conditions, particularly anxiety. On a personal level, it helps me control the arthritis I have in my right knee created from too many rugby injuries suffered in my youth.
Of course our CBD does not contain THC (the compound that gives you the high) and is therefore legal. Click on the link to buy ULU Full Spectrum 10% CBD Oil 1000mg/10ml
Try some Bob Proctor
Which brings me back to the overly negative media we now live with. I suggest keeping to a minimum your exposure to the latest news. And also focus the start and end of your day to the positive aspects that exist in your life. To help you achieve this, I am a big fan of Bob Proctor, and this video LINK is worth 10 minutes of your time. It will help put into perspective the negativity that can create these high levels of depression and anxiety.
Have a great week!
U LOVE U